Did I catch you with that title?
Did you see it and think, “yeah right, as if that is possible!!”
You aren’t alone if you are feeling as though it is next to impossible to stay calm while your child is falling apart. And you for sure aren’t alone if you have ever met your child’s meltdown with your own meltdown.
And I am here to say, that with practice, you can absolutely stay calm while your child melts down.
Here is the deal, no matter who you are, or what your parenting style is, meltdowns are a part of childhood. There are a variety of reasons that our kids melt down… But at the heart of them all is simply their lack of skills for navigating the wave of emotion that show up when they are angry, sad, scared, disappointed, or simply overwhelmed.
Our children don’t have meltdowns because they are naughty. They have meltdowns because they are unskilled.
And when you consider it takes 25 years for brains to become fully developed, it makes perfect sense that they don’t have the emotional skills they need to “shake it off” or “calm down” – even through we desperately want them to!!
It’s all about the practice
There are things we can do for our kids and for ourselves to help meltdowns be more manageable, and not such a trigger for us. Before we go there though, it is important to keep in mind that meltdowns are the birthplace of resiliency for our children. When we can allow our kids to feel their feelings, staying regulated and available ourselves, they learn that they can make it to the other side. They learn that emotions come and go. They learn that they will be ok.
Well intended, loving parents, who try and talk their kids out of meltdowns, or bribe them out by offering treats, “giving in” on a limit they set because their child is freaking out, or getting angry, are doing a disservice to their kids, and sending a message around their belief about their child’s ability to handle stress and disappointment.
And that is no bueno.
So what? What do we do?
The first thing is to notice the pattern around when your child is triggered into meltdown. Is it a time of day? A particular situation?
From here, get proactive and talk with your child about what you notice. Get curious about their experience, and then make a plan for what they can do the next time they feel that way.
When both of you are calm, the conversation could sound like:
Parent: “Wow bud, I notice that it is really hard for you when you ask for a treat and we say no… What do you notice when that happens?
Child: “Yeah, I get really mad at you cuz I want a treat!”
Parent: “I know, remember yesterday? You were really mad! You yelled and stomped around… What did that feel like in your body?”
Child: “I was really mad! I wanted to hit someone! I wanted to hurt you!”
Parent: “Yeah, you were disappointed about not getting that treat when you wanted it!! And you know what? There are going to be times when we are going to say no to treats, and you will feel mad again. I wonder if we can come up with a plan that will help you when you feel mad, so that you aren’t also hurtful – what are your ideas?”
From this place, parent and child make a list of ideas for the child to consider the next time they are feeling overwhelmed by emotion. And then practice.
This is a mindset shift, this is parenting for skill development, rather than the short term tool of “what can I do to him so he won’t have meltdowns anymore?”
It is an old school model to assume that your child’s meltdowns are something they should be punished for. Children are doing the best they can with the skills they have. So why not get more intentional about teaching how to navigate those big emotions, rather than assume kids can simply shut them down?
And what about you?
This article is titled Staying Calm During a Meltdown. I am guessing you would like some tools to help yourself during these big emotions…
First, I want you to know that there is a biological reason it is so hard to stay calm when our kids are freaking out. We have mirror neurons in our brain that can make it messy to be witness to chaos, and not get sucked in. Not to mention all the baggage we live with from our own life experiences and past relationships that can get in the way and keep us from being the people we want to be.
So let’s start with a bit of self compassion as we remember that we are all doing the best we can with the skills we have.And to start showing up differently takes practice.
Showing up calm in the midst of meltdowns requires us to become familiar with our own patterns. What happens for us as our kids slip into their fall aparts? What emotions become triggered? What are the stories we are telling ourselves? What are we afraid of? Angry about? Disappointed by?
When we start to recognize the experience we are having during our children’s meltdowns, we begin to have the ability to look at the situation, rather than from it. This is KEY, because when we can take a few steps away, becoming more aware, so many more options become available!!
So how do we do this?? How do we look at the situation??
Perhaps our child is freaking out because we said no to that treat.
The unaware reaction may sound like, “You’re fine! You can have a treat later! It’s not ok to act like that!” with internal dialogue that may be, geez, this kid is so out of control… He can’t handle anything… So entitled… Maybe I should just give him a treat because this is embarrassing and will never end… Why is he acting like this?? I am failing as a parent… He is a brat.
When we look at it, more aware of what is happening for us, we can say, “Wow, you are really upset about not getting a treat. It’s ok to feel disappointed.” We may have internal dialogue that sounds like, ooh, there is the tension in my legs and my heart is starting to race, I am going to take some deep breaths to calm down my body… My boy is having a tough time, but I have faith that he can handle this… The calmer I stay, the quicker he will return to calm. I am killing this mom thing right now!
Again, this takes practice. It requires us to become intimate with the experience we are having during our children’s meltdowns. It requires us to teach ourselves to pay more attention to our body, and learn from the wisdom that lives there.
Does this sound challenging to you? Well I have a gift you will enjoy.
It is called the #JoyfulCourage10. It is a FREE 10 day program to help parents just like you learn to become more aware of their own internal experience, and use that awareness to forward themselves and their kids into more connected, cooperative relationship.
“The Joyful Courage 10 was a terrific experience. Each day new tenets were introduced with practical ways to apply them in everyday life. I absolutely loved starting every morning with a new intention, a deeper purpose, and a guide for the not-so-simple moments that arise in parenthood. I highly recommend!” – Sara B., mama of two
#JoyfulCourage10 is 10 days of exploring and practicing the parent you want to be through daily support and inspiration. You will receive text messages (US participants) and SHORT emails to encourage and inspire you around the daily theme, as well as deeper conversation and live support in the Joyful Courage Facebook group. Best of all? YOU decide your level of engagement.
Check it out and join us!!
Peace, love and parenting, Casey
Casey O’Roarty, M.Ed, is a wife, mama, Positive Discipline Trainer and Coach, doing her best to walk her talk on the daily with her own two kids. For more information on offers, her blog, or to check out the podcast, head over to www.joyfulcourage.com.